Posts Tagged With: luxury

#JERCS

My sister and three of her life-long besties just returned from a ten-day European “holiday” that I have no doubt was filled with epic adventures and priceless memories. The fact that they created their own hashtag (legit!), is just one of the fun, unique and offbeat elements of their “girls” trip.  Not only were the destinations they chose AMAZING  – Amsterdam, Austria, Budapest and Florence – but anywhere Jenny, Erin, Rebekah and Cat (#jercs) go, good times and LOTS of laughs will follow!

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Although I was slightly jealous (okay, maybe INSANELY jealous), I very much enjoyed living vicariously through their regular social media postings of food, wine, cultural events (Hungarian baths count, right?) and plenty of jumping pics!  As if these countries weren’t already on my list, now I just need to figure out how to get there sooner!

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The #jercs all met up in Budapest, Hungary and spent four incredible days immersing themselves in the history and traditions of the beautiful country.  And by “history”, I mean a trip to the aforementioned baths, snacks and refreshments after climbing Buda Hill, checking out the ruin pubs and yummy lunches of wienersnitzel and goulash overlooking the Danube.

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The next stop for the #jercs was Vienna, Austria – with planned visits to the Imperial Palace (and exquisite gardens!) and the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. So classy, girls!

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The one destination that I was THE most envious of was Florence, Italy.  The #jercs stayed in a beautiful and charming luxury apartment with a panoramic view over the Florence Cathedral and the Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe. (www.florencewithaview.com – free plug, you’re welcome)  According to my sis, this was her very favorite part of the trip.  I’m pretty sure Jenny, on the other hand, was most excited about it being located right over the Prada store.  I may have gained a couple of pounds just thinking about all of that delicious Italian food and wine – they don’t call it “Eataly” for nothing!

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I don’t know how anyone could see fantastic travel pictures like these and not be motivated and compelled to see the world.  It may have sounded like I kept calling them #jercs (I’ll be honest, the double-meaning was a little fun) but I truly love every one of these girls.  Their boundless energy, appetite for adventure, zest for life and genuine love for each other is truly inspiring! Life is short – live, laugh, love… and travel (with friends!)!

 

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Honeymoon Heaven

It is nearly impossible to believe that in just a couple of days my husband and I will be celebrating our third wedding anniversary.  To say that the past three years have flown by is a complete understatement.  It seems like just yesterday that I married the man of my dreams at The Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, GA (where we met!) and then had the most wonderfully romantic and relaxing honeymoon at the El Dorado Casitas Royale in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

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When we first started planning the honeymoon we were completely set on at least two weeks in Italy, packing in as many destinations and experiences as possible.  After much thought and discussion (and moments of clarity) , we decided that we would postpone that trip and something more “low-key” and relaxing would be much more appropriate.  The thought of a direct flight to a Four Diamond,  all-inclusive, adults-only, seaside luxury resort sounded like the perfect “post-wedding” destination.  The El Dorado Casitas Royale not only met our expectations, it far exceeded them in EVERY way!

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When we arrived at the gorgeous resort, we were greeted with a huge smile and refreshing cocktail (I know I’m easy to please, but that one gets me EVERY time!).  We were then whisked off to our private casita and toured the beautiful, well-maintained property and immaculately manicured grounds.  My jaw almost hit the floor when we walked into our stunning and luxurious swim-up casita!  The room was huge with a high ceiling and palapa roof, had an in-suite Jacuzzi, roofless outdoor shower (my fave!), stocked minibar and every possible amenity.  There was also an exterior double bed and our own water-mirror balcony where we could step down to a lazy river that connected to our casita pool with swim-up bar.  We brought our own pool floats from home (I am obviously a professional sun-bather), so this was definitely one of our favorite features!

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We were on our honeymoon, after all, and the friendly, attentive and hard-working staff went above and beyond to meet our every need.  We had a private candlelit dinner on the beach, a beachfront couples massage, our suite decorated with rose petals, turn-down service with champagne, bubble baths drawn (my husband would KILL me if I posted a pic of him in the tub, but I am SO tempted) and we felt completely spoiled and pampered.  Although you can do as much, or as little, as you want at this resort we tried to balance being active (wink wink) with the relaxing and quality “one-on-one” time that we really wanted.

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This exquisite all-inclusive resort includes 7 gourmet restaurants and the fabulous service and attention to detail continues there. Every meal at every restaurant was absolutely delicious and the yummy food and beverages was definitely a highlight of our honeymoon experience.  Our casita pool bartender was quick to learn our names and favorite drinks and took VERY good care of us (which could be part of the reason I fell asleep during a live music show… and no, that picture will definitely NOT be posted)!  There was also 24-hour room service and I’m a little embarrassed to admit how many times I ordered chips & fresh guacamole (it was THAT good…just saying).

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Our swim-up casita shared a pool/bar with just a few other guests (adults only, thank goodness!), which was so peaceful and relaxing but we also enjoyed meeting and getting to know our “neighbors”.  Between hanging out in our floats in the pool, relaxing on the beach in the covered beach bed (well, my hubby did… I was worshiping the sun!), kayaking in the ocean, working out together, eating the most delicious food and being treated like royalty by the amazing staff, our honeymoon was exactly what we didn’t know we needed!  So thankful for the wonderful memories of an incredible week-long beginning to the rest of our lives! El Dorado Casitas Royale, muchas gracias from The Hensley’s!

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Happy Anniversary, my love, and here’s to many, many more years (and LOTS of travel!) together!  Te quiero mucho!!

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Sojourn at The Sanctuary

Being that I’m a Carolina girl, born and raised, I love ALL things Southern. Actually, the more Southern, the BETTER!  The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island is Southern charm, hospitality and beauty at it’s finest! This was my third visit to The Sanctuary and like the two prior visits, this 5-star hotel exceeded all expectations! This special weekend girls’ getaway was a “babymoon” of sorts, to celebrate one of my besties and the impending arrival of her first baby in a few months. Because of my past experiences, I thought The Sanctuary would be the perfect place to take her to relax, unwind and decompress before the busy months ahead. And as much as I love the intimacy and romance of travelling with my husband, there really is nothing like a GIRLS’ TRIP!!

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From the moment we pulled up to the front of the hotel, greeted by the friendly valets and bellmen, and escorted to the attentive front desk, the pampering began. Every staff member that we saw (or didn’t see) throughout our stay provided exceptional service and attention to detail! The lobby is grand and beautifully decorated, with two large staircases (very Gone with the Wind-ish) and is just a preview of the luxury and elegance of the entire resort.  The grounds are impeccably maintained and the natural beauty of the island is captivating!

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Almost nothing makes me happier than a jaw-dropping view overlooking the ocean and our (upgraded – woohoo!) room definitely did not disappoint! The ocean-view room the four of us shared was very spacious and comfortable, the linens were luxurious and the bathroom was exquisite!  Our beautiful balcony also overlooked the gorgeous green (I mean, insanely green!!) center courtyard that was set up for a large outdoor wedding.  We actually sat out on the balcony with mimosas in hand and observed the elegant ceremony (all in the name of research, of course).

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After an early (well not really, we are on vacation after all) workout in the very well-equipped and staffed fitness room, we were excited to get out and enjoy the nearly perfect April weather.  Since a couple of the ladies left young children at home, we were very excited to make our selves at home by the “adults-only” pool.  The concierge and pool staff were fantastic – quick with towels, drinks and food requests.  Several blissfully relaxing hours later, we showered up and headed to the Ryder Cup Bar at The Ocean Course Clubhouse (a MUST for any visit to Kiawah Island!). We got there just in time to catch a spectacular sunset and enjoyed a delicious dinner on the veranda, waves breaking in the background.

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Even though our old-age was starting to kick in and what we really wanted to do was crawl in the bed, we decided to rally and have a nightcap at the fantastic lobby bar.  Not only is the bar gorgeous and the service excellent, the great drinks, a stately fireplace and comfy furniture made it the perfect spot to cap off our evening!   Apparently there were quite a few people who had the same idea and the place was hopping until well after midnight!  (Yes, we stayed up until after midnight – hard core!)

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As sad as we were to leave on a gorgeous Sunday morning, we did enjoy a yummy breakfast at Jasmine Porch (I have never seen a shrimp and grits dish that I didn’t like!).  Unfortunately, we were a little early for Jasmine’s Signature Brunch (bottomless mimosas – hello!!) which I would definitely consider a don’t miss!  After one final walk around the gorgeous property and some pics of the beach it was time to bid adieu the wonderful Sanctuary hotel and beautiful Kiawah Island. My one and only complaint was there was so much more that I wanted to do – biking, kayaking and I definitely could have done some more sunbathing – but as the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun!!”

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I would highly recommend The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island for a destination wedding (saw one firsthand, so gorgeous!), honeymoon, anniversary (crossing my fingers!), babymoon, girls’ spa getaway, guys golf weekend or any “just because” occasion.  The gracious southern charm, world-class amenities and spectacular beachfront location will definitely keep this Carolina girl coming back again and again!

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An escape for the Mind, Body and Soul

For most of us from the U.S., whose idea of a vacation is a 3-7 day getaway to an over-crowded beach or theme park, I don’t think we have any concept of a true “holiday”. Europeans, though, believe in it whole-heartedly and I got to witness it first-hand on a “work” trip to St. Lucia. (Yep, still can’t believe I get to put the words “work” and “St. Lucia” in the same sentence!)  My mother and I went to the captivating island to attend a destination wedding/honeymoon symposium that was sponsored by the St. Lucia tourist board.  We had our choice of several high-end, all-inclusive resorts to stay at and after much research, deliberation and finger-crossing we decided on The BodyHoliday/Lesport.

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Let me first say that the raw beauty, charm and mystique of the island of St. Lucia can barely be put into words and it deserves its own post (and probably will).  But the BodyHoliday, with its secluded and private location at the top of the island, set back in a beautiful, lush bay and focus on luxurious and personal service, was truly a resort like I’ve never experienced!  After a long (1.5 hours), winding (resulting in carsickness) and scenic (through mountains & the rain forest!) drive from the airport, we were greeted with a cocktail and cold towel by friendly and professional staff.  From our first impressions of the personnel, grounds, beach, our oceanview room, the wellness center, restaurants and outdoor activities scheduled from dawn until dusk, I knew we were in for an incredible (and potentially exhausting!) 6 days!

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Not only is The BodyHoliday located in paradise (literally), this health and wellness resort is an all-inclusive on steroids!  The usual amenities of luxurious accommodations, all meals (plenty of delicious healthy, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options) and bevs (including wine and cocktails), and friendly/attentive staff are, of course, included.  Also included is a daily spa treatment, and no that was not a typo, one spa treatment PER DAY!  Just a sampling of the treatments I received were a Lucian Lime & Ginger Body Scrub, Aloe Vera Body Wrap, Full-body massage and an Aromapure facial.  All superb!!  Also included through the wellness center are all watersports (motorized AND non-motorized), yoga/pilates, spinning (in a tree house!) and a vast variety of fitness classes. There are guided morning walks and bicycle rides into the island and professional instruction in tennis, golf, scuba and archery!  I was pretty motivated to participate in as many classes and activities as possible and kudos to my mom, she did do one morning walk!

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One of my very favorite things about this particular vacation (uhm, I mean work trip) was the incredible variety of people we met.   Most of our fellow guests seemed to be European, from Britain in particular, and were warm, friendly and VERY sociable.  Almost every single one was on a return trip to The BodyHoliday (some go annually and stay for weeks) which really says it all!  Joining our new friends for high tea every afternoon and drinks after dinner (and working on my British accent) was definitely a highlight of the trip!

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Even though it may sound like an all-work/no-play trip (yeah, right), trust me, this girl did get in PLENTY of beach time!  The turquoise water was exquisite and hanging out in a cabana while being served yummy fruity drinks was a fantastic way to recover from my exhausting workouts (hehe!).  No need was unmet by the wonderfully attentive BodyHoliday staff, and I distinctly remember not having a care in the world!  Although I think The BodyHoliday (and St. Lucia in particular) is a very romantic destination, especially for activity-oriented people, it would also be great getaway for a group of friends, girls’ trip  (where my girls at??) or even singles!  If you really want to unplug, unwind, relax and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul, then let me prescribe the BodyHoliday as the perfect remedy!!  ….and take me with you 😉

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Veux-tu m’epouser?

One of the hottest new trends in the romance travel industry is a destination proposal, or otherwise known as, an “engagementcation”. The latest statistics show that about 1 in 3 marriage proposals take place while on vacation or a weekend getaway. I, of course, am a huge fan of the idea and love to see pictures and read stories about unique, romantic, creative and over-the-top schemes.

Pulling off a memorable destination proposal requires quite a bit of thought and planning but the most important detail is “location, location, location.” An exotic resort in the Caribbean, a winery in Napa Valley, a mountaintop lodge in Colorado or an iconic landmark in New York City are some popular choices. Even better would be the Eiffel tower in Paris, the Trevi fountain in Rome, a gondola ride in Venice or overlooking the Pitons in St. Lucia. As much as I am a beach girl, any and all of those destinations would elicit a big YES from me!

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The “engagementcation” genre is becoming so popular that many wedding planners, high-end resorts AND travel agents (wink wink) are expanding their businesses to reach the destination proposal market. They have staff and resources to assist with the where/when/how details of pulling off a fairytale proposal. Details like flowers, a champagne picnic, private table at a romantic restaurant, a secluded beach, hot air balloon ride, a horse-drawn carriage, sunset sail or helicopter charter, etc. The possibilities for a one-of-a-kind proposal are truly endless!

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The marriage proposal, after all, is really all about the story. The telling and re-telling of the feelings, emotions and memories that make up that magical moment. It may be a bit of a stretch to match Prince William’s super -romantic proposal to Kate on an African safari in Kenya, but a little thought, planning and effort can go a long way!

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Unbeknownst to his “hipness”, I’m sure, my husband also planned a destination proposal. It coincided with my birthday, which was how he was able to pull off the surprise and disguised it as a planned trip to Charleston, SC.  Perfectly timed, on a rooftop bar overlooking historic downtown as the sun was setting, he got down on one knee and said those magic four words (I think… I’m not really 100% what he said… It really was all a blur!!).  It was a night I will never forget and I am forever thankful for the “proposal story” we get to tell!

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What happens in Cabo…

Although Cabo San Lucas (Los Cabos) has been on my destination “bucket list”, I always thought the opportunity to actually go would be several years (or decades) off.  So when some very dear friends invited my husband and me to join them at the beautiful Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf and Spa Resort for six days, I graciously accepted (followed up by back flips and cartwheels) and started packing my bags!  Not only was I excited to see all the beauty and activity the Baja peninsula had to offer, but I am always a fan of heading somewhere tropical in the brutally cold months of January/February.  And yes, being a native Southerner, 30 degrees is BRUTAL!

Cabo San Lucas is at the tip of the 800 mile long Baja California Peninsula and has the Sea of Cortez on one shore and the Pacific ocean on the other.  In addition to fantastic year-round weather and beautiful beaches, Cabo is especially well known for sport fishing, vibrant nightlife, championship golf courses and the famous stone arch called El Arco.  We were fortunate enough to experience all of these (minus golf, not so much my thing) and more!!

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Let me begin with our amazing resort, Fiesta Americana.  I absolutely can’t rave enough about it!  The views, rooms, pools, grounds, amenities, food, staff and service were TOP NOTCH!!  I have truly never seen such an impeccably maintained property and staff that go above and beyond to meet your every need!  Not only would  highly recommend this resort to anyone considering a visit to Cabo, but I will definitely be planning a return trip for myself!!

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One of the things that we were most looking forward to on our trip was our Cabo Sport Fishing deep-sea fishing charter.  And when I say WE, I mean my husband was REALLY excited about the fishing and I was a little more enthusiastic about whale sightings and working on my tan.  Although the day began early (6am!) and chilly (goodbye tan) and some of us may have gotten a little seasick (this girl), it was a fantastic experience and a highlight of our vacation!  Pulling out of the marina as the sun rose, we passed the iconic stone arch and our captain had us on the fish in no time!  Not only were we fortunate enough to reel in five large fish (four Mahi Mahi’s!), the whale sightings were breathtaking and numerous! Our deck hand then filleted our Mahi Mahi right on the back of the boat and we had it prepared at a restaurant at the marina – sushi ya’ll??

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After an exhausting day of “sport” fishing (hehe), we were definitely looking forward to checking out the shopping, restaurants and nightlife of downtown Cabo.  Walking through the markets looking for souvenirs was made even more enjoyable by my husband trying on and comparing Mexican masks.  He, of course, bought one and also a genuine-leather beer holster.  We’re classy like that.

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The first night we had dinner at a very highly-recommended restaurant, The Office. Situated directly on the beach (think sand in your toes), the great food, live mariachi band and festive atmosphere created the authentic Mexican dining experience we hoped for.  I 100% agree with the rave reviews and would consider it a can’t-miss for anyone visiting Cabo!

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Our vacation would not have been complete without a visit to the original Cabo Wabo.   Although there wasn’t a Sammy Hagar sighting, the delicious margaritas and guacamole and endless laughs with our friends more than made up for it!  I’d like to think that all the “walking” and “activity” we did during the week totally cancelled out all of the calories consumed but I doubt it.  I may be feeling jiggly, but it was totally worth it!

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One of the things that totally made the trip were the wonderful people we met, both locals and fellow tourists.  Understandably, everyone is happy and friendly, warm and outgoing, eager to share ideas and suggestions and best of all, quick to buy you a tequila shot!  True story 🙂

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Travel, to me, is one of life’s greatest gifts.  The opportunity to travel with loved ones and close friends can make it even more enjoyable and fulfilling.  I love this quote from writer Susan Sontag, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”  Thank you Mark and Beth for the memories and belly-laughs and allowing me to check another one off the list!!

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Sandy Lane = PARADISE!!

My husband and I recently returned from an incredible week-long vacation that included visits to 6 Caribbean islands and many of their finest resorts.  One, Sandy Lane, was head, neck and shoulders above the rest!

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Set on the beautiful western coast of Barbados, Sandy Lane conveys luxury and excellence on every level.  Pulling into the grounds all I could say was, “Wow!!” and thought it had to be one of THE finest resorts on the planet!  We were greeted by an extremely friendly staff with warm smiles and chilled eucalyptus-scented towels.  I may be easily impressed, but I thought this was an extremely nice touch!  The entrance and terrace perfectly frame the breathtaking view of the pristine resort grounds and the beautiful, turquoise blue Bajan water.  We were then given an extensive tour of the entire resort by a lovely and gracious staff member.  One of the very first things I noticed was the extensive use of the color pink in the furnishings and decorations.  I asked about this and found out the owner’s favorite color is pink (like ME!!) and that’s what lead to the color palette selection.  I’ll be honest, this was absolutely one of my favorite things about the resort!

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The exquisite design and attention to detail in the restaurants, bars and lounges can’t even be put in to words.  I can only imagine the delightful experience it must be to relax with a cocktail and enjoy a delicious meal in the open-air, beachfront setting.  Every where we went, I couldn’t help but notice the extremely high level of service by the staff and the huge smiles on their faces.  You could tell they absolutely love their jobs and work tirelessly to maintain the level of service and consistency to give resort guests a one-of-a-kind experience.

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If I had one word to describe Sandy Lane’s accommodations, it would be – STUNNING!  All the guest rooms we saw, from garden view to ocean view to suites, are huge and exceptionally luxurious!  They are impeccably decorated and styled, there is a ton of closet space and the bathrooms are large and elegant.  No detail is overlooked – the finest linens on the beds, the fluffy robes and slippers in the bathroom, the fresh and clean smells of luxury bath products and a touch-screen remote that controls the lights, curtains, air conditioning and music.  I could totally see myself and my husband relaxing with a glass of wine on the expansive balcony, listening to soft jazz as the sun slowly set.

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The Spa at Sandy Lane is over 40,000 square feet of pure luxury and includes a state of the art fitness center.  Since I am one of those wackos that likes to work out on vacation, this is actually very important to me.  The spa facilities are exquisite, with every possible amenity and treatment you could imagine.  I was absolutely drooling over the outdoor relaxation area that included hot and cold showers, a whirlpool, hot tub and steam rooms.  The Spa Cafe offers a light and healthy meal option which is the perfect complement to a day at the Spa.  Also served by The Spa Cafe and a swim up bar, is the gorgeous pool with cascading waterfalls.  Relaxation at it’s finest!

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For those that don’t think that relaxing by the beach with an umbrella drink is the best vacation ever (what is wrong with them??), there are plenty of options for the active-minded.  In addition to a variety of water sports, there are 9 tennis courts and 2 world-class golf courses.

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One of the main reasons for our visit to Sandy Lane was to preview it for a wedding and/or honeymoon destination for our clients.  It really goes without saying that the service and attention to detail that is evident throughout the resort would translate in to a magical wedding celebration or an unforgettable honeymoon.  The beautiful facilities, variety of location options and an on-site wedding planner guarantees a one-of-a-kind event.  If it was good enough for Tiger Woods’ wedding, you know it has to be GOOOOOD!!!

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Let me finish by saying that my husband, whose idea of a fun is sitting in a deer stand at 6:00am in 30 degree weather, was equally blown away by the beautiful and luxurious Sandy Lane.  We couldn’t stop raving about it during and after our trip and are definitely planning on making a trip to experience this amazing resort for ourselves.  Hopefully, in the very near future (hint hint) – 3 year anniversary, maybe??

Romance, Relaxation & Rejuvenation…. Sign. Me. Up.

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